20 Years of UCHI

Year in Review: 2021–2022

A twentieth-anniversary year in review. 2021–2022. A look back at our year celebrating twenty years of fellowship, scholarship, and innovation.

It has been a celebratory year here at UCHI. The year began with our return to in-person work after our completely virtual 2020–2021 academic year. For the first time since March 2020 fellows could use their offices, share thoughts around the coffee machine, and attend each other’s talks in our conference room. Visitors to the Institute could once again browse the fruits of fellowships past on our bookshelves, peruse past winners of the Sharon Harris Book Award, and attend post-event receptions in our collaborative space. And while that would be more than enough cause for celebration, this year we also commemorated the Institute’s 20th anniversary. Since its founding in 2001 UCHI has served as a hub for all things humanities at UConn. Over the years, we’ve embarked on projects like the Digital Humanities and Media Studies Initiative, invited brilliant speakers like Toni Morrison to campus, and offered time and space for work to over 250 fellows. We are incredibly proud of how the Institute has flourished over these twenty years. Here’s a look back at some of what we did as we celebrated twenty years of UCHI. (Click any image to see it full-size.)

Welcome Reception

The year began with our welcome reception, held outside Homer Babbidge Library. We were fortunate to have good weather as we gathered under the portico, seeing colleagues in person for the first time in a year and half. Director Michael Lynch addressed the gathered crowd, thanking UCHI’s founding director, Richard Brown, as well as administrators, fellows, and staff past and present for their support of the Institute, noting that, “We’ve come a long way in twenty years thanks to the work of so many—from a small suite of rooms in Austin to our expansive home here in the library, the intellectual center of campus.”

A crowd gathered outside the UConn library for the UCHI welcome reception.
UCHI director Michael Lynch stands at a podium giving a speech
The 2021–2022 UCHI fellows stand in a group at the welcome reception.

Humanities Undergraduate Research Symposium

In November, we welcomed a group of talented undergraduate humanities researchers to our conference room for the first student-run humanities research symposium at UConn. Students presented on topics from human rights to Shakespeare to Afrofuturism, attended a workshop about humanities-related careers, and listened to a keynote address by UCHI’s own Alexis Boylan. The student organizers, Madelon Morin-Viall, Aarushi Nohria, and Rylee Thomas deserve all the credit for spearheading what we hope will become an annual tradition.

The three organizers of the Humanities Undergraduate Research Symposium, Madelon Morin-Viall, Aarushi Nohria, and Rylee Thomas stand in front of a white wall.
A group of students sit at a conference table

Events

We hosted both hybrid and Zoom-only events this year, inviting members of the UConn community and beyond to learn about publishing for the public, Black digital humanities, the artist Camille Billops, and more. We also co-sponsored more than a dozen events across campus and funded working groups that explored topics from political theory to the history of science.

UCHI fellows seated in the conference room.
UCHI fellow Sherie Randolph stands at a podium giving a talk
A group of people listen to a man speaking from a podium at a cosponsored event, “ Misinformation: Creating a Misfire for American Gun Policy“

Celebrating Twenty Years of Fellows

Throughout the year, we published interviews with past fellows about their experience at UCHI, their fellowship projects, and what they are working on now.

A quote from former fellow Allison Horrocks, "I spent many hours in a chair against one of the walls or bookcases in the UCHI conference room. I loved learning from the visiting fellows and seeing new and compelling work presented to a group of peers."
A quote from former fellow Kornel Chang: “A quote from former fellow Allison Horrocks, "I spent many hours in a chair against one of the walls or bookcases in the UCHI conference room. I loved learning from the visiting fellows and seeing new and compelling work presented to a group of peers."”
A quote from former fellow Joseph McAlhany: “The opportunity to present nascent ideas to a warm, encouraging, and diverse group of intellects was a true gift—their feedback opened up alternative paths of thought which would otherwise have remained hidden.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Manisha Sinha talked history, race, journalism, and the nature of patriotism at our capstone event, attended (in person and online) by over 650 people. Hannah-Jones also met with UConn’s Faculty of Color Working Group, directed by Melina Pappademos.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Melina Pappademos at a meeting of UConn's Faculty of Color Working Group.
Attendees arrive at the Student Union Theater for the Nikole Hannah-Jones event.
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Manisha Sinha sit facing each other on stage.
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Manisha SInha sit on stage in front of a large audience.

Fellow’s Talk: Fiona Vernal on Race and Identity in Hartford

Hartford Bound: How African Became and African American and Caribbean City. Associates Professor of History and Africana Studies Fiona Vernal, with a response by Carol Gray. April 27, 2022, 4:00pm. Humanities Institute Conference Room.

Hartford Bound: How Hartford became an African American and Caribbean City

Fiona Vernal (Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, UConn)

with a response by Carol Gray

Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 4:00pm, Humanities Institute Conference Room, HBL 4-209

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This talk explores Fiona Vernal’s current book and digital humanities project, Housing Hartford: Mobility, Race, and Identity in Post-World War II Hartford, which examines the convergence of three great migrations of African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and West Indians in the Greater Hartford region. The book project integrates oral history, archival research, and GIS methodologies to reframe the history of how Hartford became an African American and a Caribbean city. This narrative of community formation told through the lens of housing, migration, and mobility, offers counter narratives to hardened scripts of slum clearance, white suburban flight, redlining, urban renewal, and gentrification. By exploring the intersections of space, place, mobility, and identity, Hartford Bound offers new visual and spatial histories of race, ethnic belonging, and community succession.

Fiona Vernal is the director of Engaged, Public, Oral, and Community Histories (EPOCH) and Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut. The project she will present today is part of a suite public humanities projects recently awarded the University of Connecticut’s Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Community Engaged Scholarship, a UConn Humanities Institute fellowship, and the Sustainable Global Cities Initiative (SCGI) Faculty Research Grant.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Fellow’s Talk: Sherie Randolph on Camille Billops

"I See it as a Feminist Statement": Camille Billops and the Art of Liberation. Associate Professor of History, Georgia Institute of Technology. Sherie Randolph. With a response by Laura Mauldin. April 20, 2022, 4:00pm. Humanities Institute Conference Room

“I See it as a Feminist Statement”: Camille Billops and the Art of Liberation

Sherie Randolph (Associate Professor of History, Georgia Institute of Technology)

with a response by Laura Mauldin

Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 4:00pm, Humanities Institute Conference Room, HBL 4-209

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

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Photo of Camille Billops sitting in a chair, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, under a sculpture of a woman with wings.
Photo of Camille Billops by Coreen Simpson, 1984.

Given the socioeconomic structures and cultural constraints that limited Black women’s options both within and outside of the Black community, Black mothers had little space to determine their own lives, protect their bodily autonomy, and pursue their individual passions. How do we understand “bad” Black mothers who rejected contemporary forms of mothering and placed a greater value on their own creative and political work during the long 1960s? Sherie Randolph’s talk looks specifically at the Black feminist artist Camille Billops (1933–2019) and explores how she understood her contribution to Black arts as more valuable than her role as a Black mother. She learned to view her own happiness as freedom from parenting. In short, Billops’s life choices are in line with current research that suggests that if a woman wants to be content, it is best to remain childless. This talk places Billops’s artwork alongside interviews, her personal papers, and other archival sources to examine how she defied the boundaries of heteronormative motherhood in the postwar United States and went on to become an award-winning artist, filmmaker and archivist. In doing so, Billops enlarged Black feminist understandings of the possibility of Black liberation.

Sherie M. Randolph is an associate professor of history at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the founder of the Black Feminist Think Tank. Formerly an associate professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Randolph’s book Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, published by the University of North Carolina Press (October 2015), examines the connections between the Black Power, civil rights, New Left, and feminist movements. The former Associate Director of the Women’s Research & Resource Center at Spelman College, she has received several grants and fellowships for her work, most recently being awarded fellowships from the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute and Brown University’s Howard Foundation. Randolph is currently writing her second book “Bad” Black Mothers: A History of Transgression.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

20 Years of Fellows: Debapriya Sarkar

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

headshot of Debapriya Sarkar2019–20 Faculty Fellow Debapriya Sarkar is Assistant Professor of English at the UConn. Her research interests include early modern literature and culture, history and philosophy of science, environmental humanities, and literature and social justice. She has co-edited, with Jenny C. Mann, a special issue of Philological Quarterly called “Imagining Early Modern Scientific Forms” (2019). Her work appears or is forthcoming in English Literary Renaissance, Shakespeare Studies, Spenser Studies, Exemplaria, and in several edited collections. Her current project, Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science, traces how literary writing helped to re-imagine the landscape of epistemic uncertainty at the time of the Scientific Revolution. She is the recipient of the Huntington’s 2021–22 Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship.


What was your fellowship project about?
While at the UCHI, I was working my first book, Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science. In this project, I study speculative habits of thought—such as hypothesis, conjecture, prophecy, and prediction—that were at the core of Renaissance poetics, fascinating writers from Spenser, Bacon, and Shakespeare to Milton and Cavendish. I call these ways of thinking “possible knowledge,” and I use them to show how poesie (a general early modern term for literature) helped to re-imagine the landscape of epistemic uncertainty at the time of the so-called Scientific Revolution.

Would you give us an update on the project?

The book is forthcoming from The University of Pennsylvania Press in 2023.

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

The fellowship year was instrumental in shaping the final contours of my argument. During my year at the UCHI, I was working through a lot of the conceptual issues that ultimately appear in the book’s introduction. Given that my book studies the relations between literature and science, and engages with the works of historians and philosophers of science, it was extremely helpful to have the chance to discuss these ideas with colleagues in those fields—these discussions helped me to address questions of methodology and audience that have become very important in the final version of the project.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

My favorite memory from the UCHI is definitely the weekly gatherings of the fellows—these events produced so many interesting, and unexpected, exchanges of ideas! I especially recall the serendipitous nature of forming connections across our diverse experiences and interests—both scholarly and beyond—as one of most rewarding and exciting things about my time there.

What are you working on now (or next)?

I am completing the final revisions for my book, and I am starting a new project on the intersections of early modern ecocriticism, critical race studies, and postcolonial theory—in this project, I ask how early modern literary and cultural artifacts can help us think about the long, entangled histories of environmental and racial justice.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

One challenge facing the future of “knowledge” is to confront the significance and scope of the term itself—our understanding of what constitutes knowledge, and what methods are the most appropriate ways of knowledge-production (the so-called objective scientific method, let’s say), are inevitably shaped by our training, our positionality as scholars and students, and the resources available to us. For instance, how might questions in the history of science and environment shift if we centered the insights of Critical Indigenous Studies? I would be interested in thinking through such shifts in our own scholarly practices—to think of knowledges, rather than knowledge as a universal idea. This challenge is, perhaps paradoxically, one of the most exciting things about the topic: as an early modernist, it has been eye-opening to see how the import—and universality—of the term “Scientific Revolution” has been challenged and complicated by scholars working on women’s knowledge practices, Islamic science in the pre-modern period, etc. We thus already have models to rethink the meaning of what constitutes varied bodies of knowledge—by delving into the long, and global histories, of these questions, we can make the future of knowledge(s) as capacious as they have been in the past.

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word: Invoking, Learning, and Remembering Silenced Histories Through Literature, with Grace Player, Sian Charles-Harris, and Dominique Battle-Lawson. March 23, 2022, 4:30pm, Austin Building Room 217

The Humanities Institute and the Neag School of Education present

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word

Invoking, Learning, and Remembering Silenced Histories Through Literature

A panel presentation with
Grace Player, Sian Charles-Harris, and Dominique Battle-Lawson

and responses by
Julianna Iacovelli, Aarushi Nohria, Erica Popoca, and Samantha vanValkenburg

March 23, 2022, 4:30–6:00, Stern Lounge (Austin Building, Room 217)

Registration required.

The first forty students to register will receive a free copy of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, with illustrations by Nikkolas Smith. All registrants are invited to attend Nikole Hannah-Jones in conversation with Manisha Sinha, March 30, 2022 at 2:00pm in the Student Union Theater.

20 Years of Fellows: Asha Bhandary

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

Headshot of Asha Bhandary2010–11 Dissertation Research Scholar Asha Bhandary is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Iowa. She is a political philosopher and feminist ethicist whose work incorporates the human need for dependency care at the level of the foundational assumptions, premises and concepts in the liberal tradition. In her published work, which includes her monograph, Freedom to Care: Liberalism, Dependency Care, and Culture (Routledge) she advances a theory of distributive justice for caregiving arrangements that is structured by the liberal values of autonomy and transparency. It defends the importance of an abstract understanding of caregiving arrangements with her concept the “arrow of care map” as a way of tracking distributive inequalities by categories including race, gender, ethnicity, class status.


What was your fellowship project about? Would you give us an update on the project?

As the CLAS Dean’s graduate fellow at UCHI, I was working on my dissertation, which then became my first book, Freedom to Care: Liberalism, Dependency Care, and Culture (Routledge, 2020). The book was the subject of an author-meets-critics session at the 2020 Central APA, a journal symposium in the Critical Review for International Social and Political Philosophy, and several lectures at academic conferences as well as bookstores, including the internationally renowned series Live from Prairie Lights. What I developed during my fellowship year was really one of the cornerstones of the book’s argument. I established that care has to be included as one of the circumstances of justice, working within a framework of liberal political theory. I showed that care has the same or greater value than the other things that are included as circumstances of justice—protection from attack, income and wealth—thereby demonstrating that care is one of these foundational needs. In doing so, I united the existing care ethical literature, which asserts the value of care, with the literature in liberalism that establishes the idea of distributive justice as a system of fair cooperation for everyone.

This cornerstone later became an article that was published in the Journal of Philosophical Research, with a response by Jan Narveson, a well-known libertarian, and with my response to him. It was that variety of interlocutor I had in mind when I developed that argument—someone who doesn’t necessarily believe that care should be included in our accounts of what is most fundamental to society in our accounts of justice—the person who thinks that maybe care is a private concern, or that it’s properly the domain of women, or that it just occurs naturally—I was arguing against them.

I continued to develop this project, and to write the book as an assistant professor. The result, my monograph, Freedom to Care, sets forth a new form of liberalism that is an anti-oppression liberalism that incorporates care as well as the facts of group-based oppression into the justificatory structure of liberalism. This form of justification acknowledges that what theorists know is going to be informed by what real people in the world assert as valuable. But, when we’re trying to decide on the parameters for a fair system of social practices, we cannot solely rely on what people assert in our actual conversations. We also need to engage in the kind of abstract theoretical exercise that is the philosopher’s expertise, which creates the possibility of a “metalucidity” (that is Jose Medina’s term to characterize the ability to understand the norms that structure the world around us) about how our assumptions are informed by existing inequalities. To get distance from those existing inequalities, I use a version of John Rawls’ idea of the original position as a modeling device.

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

Last month, I completed a semester as a Fellow-in-Residence at a similar research institute at the University of Iowa called the Obermann Center. And my experience at the Humanities Institute at UConn definitely contributed to my interest in applying for that fellowship. At both Institutes, I found that I was in dialogue with other people who genuinely care about their scholarship—who are deeply immersed in it, and engaged in a specific academic debate but who are also interested in discussing it with people outside that debate. As a graduate fellow at UCHI, it was wonderful to be a member of that kind of community as a graduate student. I was one of, I think, two graduate students in our cohort, and then the rest of the fellows were faculty. When you’re in a position like that, you learn so much by absorbing how other people are going about their projects. In terms of how it shaped my scholarship, being part of that interdisciplinary group of scholars helped me learn to articulate my work in a language that is understandable to people who aren’t just at the interior of the debate. For philosophers, that’s really important because it helps us test whether what we’re doing matters. Being able to talk about your work in more general terms applies pressure to the ideas, because you have to think about what other people are talking about and what they value and how to translate the work that you’re doing into language that’s going to make sense to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Of course, this is always a huge challenge for academics, because we’re working in highly specialized areas, within which we’re contributing to specialized debates. Moving back and forth between that specialized debate, where we’re making a really specific refinement in a concept, and then talking about the work more broadly is difficult. I think that being a fellow at the Humanities Institute helped me begin to gain this skill at a very early stage of my career.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

Again, the context for this is that as a graduate student, I was very early in my career. I remember an interaction with one of the senior scholars that led me to conclude that she was totally Boss. In a conversation during her office hours, she told me that that if she had to leave her writing for household responsibilities, (maybe she had a baby, I don’t quite remember) she would wait until her writing reached a logical stopping point, and her husband just had to wait. Those insights about how female intellectuals manage micro-interactions are incredibly valuable early in one’s career.

What are you working on now (or next)?

I just published a co-edited volume called Caring for Liberalism (Routledge 2021) and I’m going to be speaking at a panel related to it at the Pacific APA in Vancouver this April. I’m also working on a response to critics for another symposium on Freedom to Care, which will be in the journal Dialogue: The Canadian Philosophical Review. This summer, I will be one of the Distinguished Visiting speakers at the NEH Summer Institute Philosophical Perspectives on Giving, Receiving, and Conceiving Care. Right now, my new writing is for an article for the journal philosophies that is connected to my next monograph,
provisionally titled Being at Home: Liberal Autonomy in an Unjust World.

In it, I’m thinking about how to conceptualize autonomy when you begin from the subject position of a woman of color. To do so, I am combining personal narratives with philosophical analysis to yield a plural account of autonomy. Self-sovereignty is one part of autonomy; that’s the "this is my domain, don’t mess with me," component. Then there’s an authenticity component: Who are you really? How can you act in a way that’s true to who you really are? In addition, I am also thinking about the way affordances in the world are informed by racialized entitlements, which also brings me into bioethics. This new project is an extension of the theory in my first monograph, where I look at caregiving arrangements and show how our caregiver arrangements are unjust and need to be rectified. The new book will establish a link between thinking from the subject position of a woman of color who asserts full claimant status, to the demands for a just society that includes justice in caregiving arrangements. Because women of color are so often the repository of needs of others, globally, women of color are not granted full claimant status in informal spaces. In interactions when women of color assert full claimant status, we are often met with various forms of resistance—anger, confusion, hostility. This experience of resistance changes how we should think about autonomy because I take seriously that women of color are autonomous.

My research overall, is an ambitious program in political philosophy that evaluates the nature of entitlements, distributive justice, freedom, and autonomy in a way that is informed by through feminist and anti-racist philosophy. In Being at Home, I continue that project by drilling down into the concept of autonomy and then also looking at the way that we're autonomous in the world as it is—in a nonideal world—where part of what everyone wants is to achieve a state of “being at home” in the world. An explication of this state of being at home is something I developed in chapter nine of Freedom to Care. It’s a state of affairs where you have access to your valued relationships and you have access to other essential goods. In the new book, I’m looking at the relationship between being at home and autonomy, which occurs against the backdrop of our society.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

People’s social media habits create challenges for our habits of mind—in particular, for our ability to think independently and clearly and to maintain habits of mind that allow for intensive concentration. And this is a challenge that I think about for myself, as a professor, as a mother with two children, a teenager and a seven-year-old. I strive to protect my kids’ brains for sustained concentration that is not interrupted or filled in by the thoughts of others. We do that by limiting their access to technology more substantially than most people. However, on the other side of the equation about the goods of technology in relation to knowledge, is that social media platforms have upended gatekeeping practices in ways that are really exciting. For instance, in popular culture, there is so much more diversity in the voices that we can have access to—that we can read and listen to and watch. That this transition happened as rapidly as it did was because of technology and social media.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Celebrating 20 Years of the UConn Humanities Institute with Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones in conversation with Manisha Sinha. March 30, 2022, 2:00pm, Student Union Theater.

Celebrating twenty years of the UConn Humanities Institute with Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist

Nikole Hannah-Jones

in conversation with Manisha Sinha (History, UConn)

March 30, 2022, 2:00pm. Student Union Theater

REGISTER

On March 30th at 2:00pm in the Student Union Theater, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, most famous for her work on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, will be in conversation with UConn history professor Manisha Sinha. They will discuss Hannah-Jones’ work as an advocate for people of color in journalism and as a writer working to change the way we think about race in the United States.

This event is restricted to the UConn community. Please register with a UConn email address. All registrations without UConn email addresses will be canceled. If you are part of the UConn community but do not have a UConn email address, write to us at uchi@uconn.edu.

You must show your ticket to enter the venue.

This is a UConn Honors event.

Members of the UConn community may submit questions in advance of the event via online form. Please submit your questions by March 28, 2022. Members of the UConn community will also be able to access a livestream of the event. There will be no recording.

Cosponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the UConn Foundation, the Neag School of Education, the Africana Studies Institute, the Human Rights Institute, the History Department, and the Journalism Department.

ACCESS NOTE

If you require accommodations to attend this event, please notify uchi@uconn.edu by Wednesday, March 23. An ASL interpreter will be present for the duration of the event. The event will also be available via livestream.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES is the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project and a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. She has spent her career investigating racial inequality and injustice, and her reporting has earned her the MacArthur Fellowship, known as the Genius grant, a Peabody Award, two George Polk Awards and the National Magazine Award three times. Hannah-Jones also earned the John Chancellor Award for Distinguished Journalism and was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. In 2020 she was inducted into the Society of American Historians and in 2021 she was named a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She also serves as the Knight Chair of Race and Journalism at Howard University, where she is founding the Center for Journalism & Democracy.

In 2016, Hannah-Jones co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which seeks to increase the number of reporters and editors of color. She holds a Master of Arts in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina and earned her BA in History and African-American studies from the University of Notre Dame.

MANISHA SINHA is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut. She received her Ph.D from Columbia University where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft prize. She taught at the University of Massachusetts for over twenty years where she was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed on faculty. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), which was named one of the ten best books on slavery in Politico in 2015 and featured in the New York Times 1619 Project. Her recent book, the multiple-award winning The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2016) was long listed for the National Book Award for Non Fiction. The Slave’s Cause was widely reviewed in the mainstream press and was featured as the editor’s choice in The New York Times Book Review. Professor Sinha has published and been interviewed in national and international media. She is the author and editor of several other books and articles. She is also the recipient of numerous awards including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and two from the Mellon Foundation. In 2018, she was a visiting Professor at the University of Paris, Diderot and in 2021, she received the James W.C. Pennington award, from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. She is a member of the Board of the Society of Civil War Historians and of the Council of Advisors of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg, New York Public Library. She is a co-editor of the “Race and the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” series of the University of Georgia Press and is on the editorial board of Slavery and Abolition. A historian of the long nineteenth century, her research interests lie specifically in the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism and the history and legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. She is currently writing a book on the Reconstruction of American democracy after the Civil War under contract with Liveright (WW Norton).

Fellow’s Talk: Micki McElya on Pageantry and Power in the Black Freedom Movement

2021–22 UCHI Fellow's Talk. Liberating Beauty?: Pageantry and Power in teh Black Freedom Movement. Professor of History Micki McElya. March 9, 2022, 4:00pm. Homer Babbidge Library, 4-209.

Liberating Beauty?: Pageantry and Power in the Black Freedom Movement

Micki McElya (Professor, History, UConn)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 4:00pm, HBL 4-209

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

Register to attend virtually.

This talk examines the centrality of beauty pageants—of the celebratory display and competitive assessment of the appearance and deportment of Black girls and women—to the diverse range of Black politics, activist strategies, and visions for freedom and liberation in the United States from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Common to all was an investment in contesting white supremacist beauty standards, claiming the authority to define Black beauty, and harnessing its liberating possibilities. As both subjects and the objects of these investments, Black girls and women confronted an always fraught, often violent terrain of beauty’s opportunities, limitations, pleasures, and awful degradations. As an ideal, a set of practices, and as daily labor, beauty could be many things, but it was fundamentally always about race, gender, and power.

Micki McElya is professor of History and affiliated faculty with the Africana Studies Institute, American Studies Program, and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. Her current book project, No More Miss America! How Protesting the 1968 Pageant Changed a Nation will be published by Avid Reader Press (Simon & Schuster) and recently earned a 2022–2023 Public Scholar award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. McElya’s last book, The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery, was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2017 and a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was a co-winner of the 2018 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies, winner of the inaugural Sharon Harris Book Prize from UConn’s Humanities Institute, and finalist for the 2016 Jefferson Davis Book Award from the American Civil War Museum. She is also the author of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, which won a 2007 Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Why Support the Humanities? An Interview with Joyce A. Scott

A photograph of Joyce Scott, a white woman with short grey hair.Joyce A. Scott retired from Texas A&M University-Commerce as Professor of Higher Education, after serving 32 years in academic administration at four public universities, a national association, and a state university system. She holds a BA in French and English from the University of Connecticut, an MA in French from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from Duke University. She is an avid supporter of the UConn Humanities Institute.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. If you would like to support the work of the Institute, please see our giving page.


What first drew you to the study of literature?

I was read to from early childhood, all the time, and I was fascinated by storytelling. As I became able to read, I started taking off on my own, pursuing various adventures. Studying literature was therefore a continuation of a lifetime habit, the point being to get inside other lives and minds, to learn other cultures, or to learn about other cultures. It was a way of broadening my outlook, to travel the world without leaving home. I think one of the things that most fascinated me and kept me studying literature all the way through the doctorate was the cultural exploration. Being brought up in immediately post–World War II United States was a fairly anodyne experience, and exploring the rest of the world and other people’s perspectives and ideas was fascinating to me. So I just kept going. It was so much fun.

What makes you think it’s especially important to support the humanities now?

I was brought up in the mode of the Enlightenment and the application of reason to solve problems, to explore truth and knowledge, and that seems to have gone out the window. We have fake news. We have problems of communication, where effectively lies are repeated and repeated and repeated just to instill mistrust in the other. I think that the humanities foster effective communication, effective modes of inquiry, which we seem to be ignoring or disclaiming these days. We are manipulated by technology, by politicians and other public figures. The humanities help us to broaden our perspective and to test the allegations of this cultural moment and to explore what is truth. The recent Nobel laureate Maria Ressa talks about the integrity of facts, and what has happened in the present cultural moment is that facts have been undermined. The humanities give us a way back to understanding and knowing what is truth, what is real.

What makes you committed to supporting the work of the Humanities Institute at UConn?

As I said earlier, the whole issue of what is true and what isn’t becomes critical in these days, and much of the work of the Institute addresses the kinds of concerns that I have raised. The whole project the Future of Truth directly responds to my concerns. When I visited the Institute a couple of years back, pre-pandemic, there was a workshop with public school teachers going on, focusing on effective communication and being able to communicate the values of the humanities to students. Workshops and other public-facing events are extremely important in this particular time in alerting people to other ways of examining truth and other ways of finding truth—critical inquiry. I think we have far too little of that in our public life, and I was delighted to see that public school teachers were on campus and discussing important issues with faculty and students in the Humanities Institute. I had a very traditional, old-school education, and I remember my stepfather, who was an MD/Ph.D. microbiologist, saying to me in my junior year as an English and French major, Couldn’t you do something useful? I now see that it is useful, that the Institute is doing something valuable and, in fact, spreading the word. Communicating the value of the humanities is extremely important in this time.

20 Years of Fellows: Margo Machida

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

Margo Machida at the Honolulu Museum of Art, standing between two sculptures of faces, mounted on the wall.2010–11 Faculty Fellow Margo Machida is Professor Emerita of Art History (School of Fine Arts) and Asian and Asian American Studies (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) at the University of Connecticut. Born and raised in Hawai`i, she is a scholar, independent curator, and cultural critic specializing in Asian American art and visual culture. Her most recent book is Unsettled Visions: Contemporary Asian American Artists and the Social Imaginary, published by Duke University Press in 2009. This book received the prestigious Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in 2011. She also co-edited the award-winning volume Fresh Talk/Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art (University of California Press, 2003). She is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious CAA Award for Excellence in Diversity.


What was your fellowship project about?

My 2010–2011 fellowship project, “Resighting Hawai‘i: Global Flows and Island Imaginaries in Asian American and Native Hawaiian Art,” profiled work by fifteen living artists of Asian, Indigenous Hawaiian, and mixed heritages. Drawing on the extensive oral history interviews I conducted with these artists, this project investigated how their visual production negotiates complexly entwined histories, conflicts, and claims to place in the Hawaiian Islands and in the Asia Pacific region.

Would you give us an update on the project?

This fellowship research provided the basis for several subsequent publications including: “Remixing Metaphors: Negotiating Multiracial Positions in Contemporary Native Hawaiian Art,” in War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013); “Trans-Pacific Sitings: The Roving Imagery of Lynne Yamamoto,” in Third Text special issue, “The Transnational Turn: East Asian Mobility” (2014); and “Pacific Itineraries and Oceanic Imaginaries in Contemporary Asian American Art,” in Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas journal (Brill, Spring 2017).

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

The fellowship period was an invaluable opportunity to exclusively focus on this research. The transcripts from these digitally recorded interviews provided the primary source material for developing a comparative thematic framework to analyze works of art emerging from Indigenous and ʻsettler’ groups in Hawaiʻi and their continental U.S. diasporas.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

I enjoyed the supportive collegial atmosphere and the privilege of being able to listen to work-in-progress, especially from colleagues whose informal talks introduced me to a range of investigative strategies in other fields. Whereas my scholarship is anchored in recorded exchanges with contemporary artists, those sessions likewise conferred a keen appreciation for what could be achieved through sustained archival research.

What are you working on now (or next)?

My research with contemporary Asian American artists is ongoing, including an interest in artists from Hawaiʻi. The scope of my attention has also extended to earlier generations of Asian American modernists from the Hawaiian Islands who traveled to New York and other East Coast cities between the 1930s and 1970s. Their presence in the American art world remains a comparatively understudied subject.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

The COVID pandemic continues to impact life at every level. In this profoundly disruptive and uncertain time—and especially during the 2020 closure of universities and museums—I was moved by the extraordinary generosity shown by colleagues across the United States and abroad who remained readily available to answer research questions online, and to think through complicated issues together. Our exchanges reinforced the signal importance of maintaining durable communities in the collaborative production of knowledge. Collaboration is scarcely a novel concept, but it certainly takes on new valences as the means to share resources and to sustain one another in today’s difficult times.